Driving anywhere in the Middle East can be a very interesting experience for travelers who are not used to erratic driving behavior, but it does go to a new extreme in the UAE.
Driver behavior in the UAE can be an eye opening experience. You may see local drivers performing extremely unsafe driving practices, such as cutting in front of fast-moving cars, changing lanes without indicating, speeding onto roundabouts at ludicrous speeds, and then for extra fun, trying to exit the roundabout from the inside lane.
A good thing to keep in mind is to pretend that every other driver in the UAE isn't aware that any other car is on the road, or if they do, it's only a vague concept to worry about, such as piece of rubbish on the road. Do not at any point expect any of the things you may be used to back home, such as: using indicators, obeying the speed limit or drivers having any regard for their own personal safety or anyone else's.
On the intercity roads, things get a little bit more drastic. While you don't have to worry about roundabouts, be aware that the inner lane is the one reserved for speeding luxury cars, and speeds of over 200kmh are not uncommon. At that speed, it is hard to break in time (assuming they bother) approaching a car doing a paltry 140kmh.
As an added bonus, intercity highways have unmarked speed bumps, shifting sands and sometimes, camels. Yes. Seriously. Camels.
If you plan on driving in the desert, camels become a bigger problem. You should make sure that you have a well maintained four wheel drive vehicle, adequate water, and a mobile phone with sufficient reception if you do plan on driving in the desert.
Pedestrians should take great care in the UAE as 25% of road fatalities are pedestrians. A pedestrian crossing is no guarantee that a driver will slow down, nor is a pedestrian on the road a guarantee that a driver will change their course or speed at all. Think what you read above about drivers in the UAE not really being aware that other cars exist, and double that theory for pedestrians.
Despite all of this (or perhaps because of this) road laws in the UAE are quite comprehensive. If you are involved in an accident you must leave the vehicle exactly where it is, even if that's in the middle of the road. Dubai is an exception, where intense traffic means that this would be a major road hazard.
If someone is injured in an accident, the person that caused the accident goes immediately to jail until the injured person is out of hospital. Should someone die in an accident, the person that caused the accident is liable for a US $55,000 dollar fine, called "Daiya" as compensation for the death.
Even minor accidents can involve lengthy litigation where the drivers are prevented from leaving the country, so be very careful when and how you drive, even if no one else is.
Road rage, even rude gestures such as the middle finger salute and swearing, actually can attract significant penalties. So be careful to remain calm at all times.
Digital cameras for registering traffic violations are very common on UAE roads, which you may find strange considering the general state of traffic, but nonetheless they are there. Primarily they are for speeding, but they also register other traffic violations.
Oddly, you cannot turn right at a red light unless there is a yield sign, which makes you wonder why they don't put a "Do not exit from inside lane on roundabout" sign up somewhere as well. Parking is prohibited where the curb is painted yellow and black and the use of front seat belts is mandatory.
The UAE has a zero limit for intoxication, and the penalties for driving under the influence of any alcohol at all can be severe. If you are arrested for drink driving, you can be sent to jail for many days while awaiting a court hearing. The penalty can be heavy fines and in a worst case scenario, imprisonment. For Muslims, even those of non-UAE origin, it can be worse. Be aware of the local laws before you go to the UAE, and always abide by the rules.
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